Swift Arrow

 

"We're moving west, Pa," Marcus Boylan told his dad. "This town is too crowded for me. I want adventure. I want room. I hear the land west of here is beautiful with mountains, streams, valleys, and rich black soil. It's too tame here for me."

Pa shook his head and tried to point out to his daring son the dangers of moving to Indian country and the advantages of staying in town.

"But, Pa," Marcus continued, "Certainly you haven't forgotten the urge to step out on your own. You left the Old Country yourself. After that, you still weren't satisfied with Massachusetts, and moved out here to Pennsylvania. Now I've got to do the same."

Neighbors, relatives, and friends tried to persuade the young family not to go. The danger to little settlements from angry Indians was not imaginary. But Marcus and his family, along with fourteen other families, decided to brave the dangers and strike out as pioneers.

Their belongings were loaded onto covered wagons. After the tearful good-byes, they set out. The journey was slow and difficult. The roads to the west had not yet been built, so they had to cut their own trail through the forests. Two weeks of travel through wilderness brought them to a valley that seemed to be ideal. Soon the sound of axes could be heard ringing through the forest as they cleared the land for their settlement. Log homes sprang up one at a time as the men worked together to build them.

In a few months all the cabins were built and the gardens were producing well. Marcus' young son, George, thrived on the hard work and adventure. He had smaller tools like his father's and enjoyed trying to work like a man, building the cabins, plowing the fields, and clearing the land with Dad.

One evening while the family was listening as Papa read from the big Bible, a movement was seen outside. George peeked out through a peephole and announced breathlessly, "Papa, two Indians are coming up the path."

Marcus stepped to the door, opened it, and invited the Indians inside. Ma hurried to the kitchen and rustled up some food. They ate it hungrily. The visit was short and uneventful. Indians began visiting more frequently after that, and Marcus was always careful to treat them kindly. The knowledge that Indians were nearby, however, signaled Marcus to be more cautious.

After that he never left home alone, but always took the family with him. He taught eight-year-old George to walk quietly and to be alert, especially in the woods. "George," he said, "if you ever run afoul of an Indian, never show fear. No matter how scared you are, practice control. Never show fear."

One day Pa, George, and Mr. Stewart were clearing some land they hoped to plant in the spring. George was hacking away at some tough branches with all his might when suddenly, the head of his hatchet flew off and came down, digging into the top of his head. He felt the sharp, fiery sting as the blade hit him, then all went black.

When he awoke a few minutes later, the whole forest seemed to be swimming around him. Pa bent over holding something to the back of George's head. Pa and Mr. Stewart tenderly carried George to the house where Ma washed the wound and put a tight bandage across it. Ma cleansed and dressed it daily until a long jagged scar formed over the place where the cut had been. It was nearly two weeks before George could leave his parents' big feather bed, for whenever he tried to get up, the room started to whirl.

By fall, George had recovered, and plenty of food had been stored in the root cellar for winter. The winter was long and cold, but Ma kept George busy learning reading, writing, and arithmetic.

As the winter passed and spring brought new life and lightness to their lives, Pa and George were anxious to plow the fields and put in crops. One lovely spring day Mr. Stewart and his son, Robert, drew up in their wagon ready to help the Boylan family with the plowing. George shouted for joy as he and Robert raced to the old oak tree. George noticed that his friend seemed pale, thin, and nervous.

As Pa and Mr. Stewart left for the field, they asked the two boys to finish the morning chores before joining them. "Bring your hatchets so you can help us, and fill your water buckets at the spring halfway up the hill when you come," Pa said. "We'll be hot and thirsty by the time you get there."

By ten o'clock the boys started up the path swinging their water buckets. At the spring the boys drank the clear, cool water, then filled their buckets and continued. George walked quietly, watching for any signs of danger. He noticed that Robert didn't seem to care as he tramped ahead kicking sticks noisily. "Robert, hasn't your Pa taught you to walk quietly?" George asked. "If any Indians are around, they're sure to hear you."

"Indians?" Robert's voice squeaked as the color drained from his face. "My Pa said there ain't no danger at all."

"But there is, Robert. Pa says there will be as long as the war lasts and the English tell the Indians to "

"I won't listen about the war and the Injuns, it scares me. Mama says it's bad for me to be scared. Now, George, you quit scaring me!"

George looked at his pale shivering friend and shook his head. Robert's eyes were round with fright, but he was walking a little quieter now. Suddenly George's sharp eyes caught a movement in the bushes. He sensed that it was not an animal. The men were too far to hear if he called for help, and Pa had taught him not to run. He decided to hide.

George took Robert's arm and pulled him swiftly into the bushes. "What's the matter with you, George?" Robert whined.

"I saw something, it might be an Indian," George whispered.

"Indians? No, George, they'll scalp me!" Robert cried.

His wails and thrashing in the bushes frightened George. "Hush, Robert, hush. Please be quiet. If they're out there they're sure to hear you."

Finally Robert quieted, but it was too late. Strong hands grabbed the boys and pulled them out of the bushes. Robert screamed, but a hand covered George's mouth. George tried to take a bite out of the hand that held him but the Indian was too fast. A leather strap was yanked over his mouth before he could make a sound. George was so scared he could hardly move, but Robert was kicking, thrashing, and trying to get away. The Indian that had caught George let him go and pointed up the path. George saw how futile it would be to try to run and followed the path. Robert's fear overcame him and his legs collapsed under him, angering the Indians.

"Don't cry. Don't scream. Act brave, even if you're scared." Pa's advice rang in George's ears and strengthened him as he walked. But Robert was hanging limply under an Indian's arm, moaning and sighing.

They walked past the settlement and George saw smoke rising from the Boylan cabin. Indians swarmed everywhere carrying brightly colored quilts and other goods from the cabins. Fear gnawed at George's stomach as he wondered if Ma and Pa were still alive.

The boys were led to a pony, lifted to its back, and tied on. Then their pony was tied to the captor's pony. Robert continued to cry. The boys rode for hours until darkness fell. They were hungry but nothing was given them to eat. Finally the company stopped and they were lifted to the ground. Robert collapsed immediately. George took a few steps, then his legs gave out too. A blanket was given to them with one word, "Sleep." Thoughts raced through George's mind as he lay helpless on the cold hard ground wondering if his father would find and rescue him. "No matter what," he decided, "I will be brave."

Weeks and weeks of riding came and went, with each step taking them farther from home. Hope of rescue faded from his mind. Robert grew weaker and weaker, refusing to eat. At times he didn't even recognize George. Eventually George was separated from Robert and never saw or heard of him again.

Finally they rode into a large Indian settlement. The women in the camp stared and poked at him, feeling with amazement the silken curls that now hung in rings on his shoulders. Then George was taken by a handsome, well dressed Indian to a large wigwam furnished with luxurious skins in the center of the camp. There he was left alone and soon fell asleep on a pile of skins. Abruptly he was awakened by bony hands tugging at his shirt. He stared up into the faces of two Indian squaws. One held a round pot with liquid in it. She set it down and joined the other squaw in tugging at his clothes.

They began in earnest to remove his clothes. George kicked and twisted but was no match for them. Soon they had him undressed. One held him down while the other dipped a cloth into the pot. Then she smoothed the cloth over George's body. George was shocked to see his skin turn brown. Despite his protests, they continued till every inch of him was brown. Next they cut his long hair leaving only a narrow strip of short stubby hair from his forehead to the nape of his neck that scarcely concealed his long jagged scar. Then they dyed his hair as black as they could make it.

After finishing, they dressed the bewildered boy in a beaded buckskin shirt and pants. They led him outside to the tall handsome Indian that had brought him to the wigwam. The Indian eyed him carefully then gave a grunt of approval.

"I am Big Wolf, chief of this tribe," he said. "Many moons ago my squaw died and left me a girl papoose. She is the light of my heart, but she left me no boy. Big Wolf has need of a son. From now on you are my son! You must always be strong and brave. You must learn to do things better than all other Indian boys and become a mighty warrior and leader of people."

Now George understood why he had been stolen. He wondered if the chief was pleased with him, but in his heart he felt he could never really be an Indian. He looked at his bronzed arms and sadly wondered if even Ma and Pa would recognize him now.

Serious training as the chief's son soon began. The other boys were far more skilled at jumping, wrestling, swimming, and other activities than George. The one thing George felt he could win at though was running. At the beginning of the first race, he was off like a shot, leaving the others far behind. "Swift Arrow!" he heard the onlookers laughingly call out. He was determined to show them. But the track was long and seemed to get longer by the minute. His chest felt heavy and his legs seemed made of wood, still he ran on. Then he began to hear pounding feet behind him. Soon they caught up. He willed his legs to go faster but to no avail. They passed him and he crossed the finish line seconds behind.

George felt ashamed, but he held his head high and strode toward his wigwam. Halfway home Big Wolf overtook him. "Swift Arrow can run fast," he said. "Now he will learn to control his pace, and will be a mighty runner."

"Swift Arrow?" George asked. "Yes, Swift Arrow. That is a good name for one who starts a race so quickly. From now on you will be Swift Arrow."

George was determined to make Big Wolf proud of him. Day after day he practiced all the sports and skills of the Indians until the other young boys learned to respect him. No matter what happened, he remembered Pa's words to never show fear. Never.

Years passed. George stood as tall and straight as any Indian. The frequent staining of his skin kept him as brown as the rest. In every test of skill he was now superior to any young man in the village. Big Wolf was proud of him and determined to announce him as the next chief.

George, however, through the years had never given up the thought of escape. He knew he could never be chief. Never could he lead these people to war, especially against his own people. The longing to go home and live a peaceful life among his own people grew within him. The Indians had almost forgotten that he was really a paleface boy. They no longer watched to see that he would not run away.

He knew that now was the time to go. He knew he must go before Big Wolf made an official announcement. One day the chief left on an errand. Acting quickly, George announced a feast. The people loved the idea, and soon all the braves were too drunk to notice or care what George did. He knew it would be a day or two before they began searching for him. He got on his faithful pony and rode off into the forest. Soon he sent his pony back, knowing the footprints would be too easy to follow. Using his best skills, he traveled, careful not to leave a trail. Sometimes he would swing through the branches of the treetops for hours. Three days into his journey he thought he heard a pursuer. Quickly he took to the trees and swung for three hours then he jumped down, slipped into a hollow log, and fell asleep. He awoke to the sound of voices and realized that his pursuers were sitting on the very log he was hiding in.

Their conversation revealed their frustration as they decided to give up the chase and go home. Hours later they left and George continued his journey. Days and weeks went by. He lived on roots, plants, berries, and small animals that he was able to trap. His training for twelve years in an Indian village served him well. He lost track of time. When he reached the Susquehanna River near his old home town, the leaves were turning color and the pumpkins were a beautiful gold in the fields.

Finally he found his home town. Was his home still there? Were his parents living still? Anxiously he looked. The town had grown beyond recognition. Then he saw a familiar cabin. Yes, it was one he had helped build. He began to wonder, did Ma and Pa still live there? A man coming down the street stared at him. George suddenly became aware of how strange he looked in his Indian clothing. He tried to speak but the English words didn't want to come. Finally he blurted, "Where is the cabin of Marcus Boylan?" The man pointed to his old home.

George walked towards it with pounding heart. A man stepped off the back porch with a milk pail in his hand and headed down the road toward George. It was Pa! George's heart nearly burst for joy. Suddenly Marcus looked up and saw him. His eyes flashed with anger. "Get out of here you Indian dog! I won't have you lurking about my place!"

George was astonished. Then he almost laughed. Of course, Pa could not recognize him not with all the brown stain on his skin and hair. His clothes were Indian, he even moved like an Indian. The last time Pa had seen him was twelve years ago as a small, light-headed, eight year old boy.

At last George gathered his wits and tried to speak. English words didn't want to come. "Me no I am no Indian dog" he stammered.

"Get out of here I say! I have nothing for you thieving Indians. Sure, I used to be good to you, but how did you repay me? By stealing my boy, that's how!"

"But, Pa. Pa, it's me!" George cried.

Marcus searched his face. "You're an Indian."

"No, I am the papoose the boy George Boylan. George Augustus Boylan."

Confusion showed on Marcus' face. How did this Indian know his son's name? "You can't be!" he shouted. "You're just tricking me. My son had light skin and light hair. Now get out of here!"

Just then a pretty, white-haired woman appeared behind Marcus. It was Ma. "Now Marcus, stop your yelling," she said. "Not all Indians are bad."

"But, Prudence, this rascal claims to be our George! Can you beat that?"

"Ma, please tell him, Ma," George said. "I am George. This is just stain from berries on my skin."

Ma came closer and the color drained from her face. "Well, Marcus, he would be changed, its been a long time I know! The birthmark on his back and the scar on his head. They could not be changed."

Immediately George bent his head low and parted his hair, revealing the long, jagged scar. Then he turned his back and lifted the buckskin shirt. There they could see the dark brown birthmark as large as a shilling. George turned around to speak, but his words were cut off. "George! My boy!" Ma cried. "You have come back!" She threw her arms around him but the shock was too much. George caught her as she fainted in his arms. He carried her in and laid her on the soft featherbed. Tears flowed down Marcus' cheeks and for the first time in years, George felt tears on his own cheeks also.

Neighbors were called in and the hours flew by as they reminisced over all that had taken place. Before long the stain disappeared. The Boylan cabin rang with laughter. Joyful prayers of thanksgiving arose for the marvelous answer to the prayer they had all been praying for twelve years.

***

The painful accident George had had as a small boy proved to have a blessing in it in the end. It marked him for life with a mark few people would have known of and even fewer would have looked for later. But his mother remembered and it saved her from making the terrible mistake of rejecting her long lost son.

Knowing the identifying marks of those that are Jesus' followers can save us from making the terrible mistake of rejecting the truth God has so graciously given us. May God bless you and anoint your eyes with eyesalve from heaven as you search for the precious pearls of truth hidden in God's Word for you.

 

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